CD Review: Mostly Transcriptions
"This program centers around the transcriptions of Franz Liszt. Liszt drew significant inspiration from the music of Schubert, Schumann, Chopin and Bach. It is "mostly" transcriptions because Hsieh includes several original pieces of Liszt from Venezia e Napoli and a lovely, meditative piece of new music by Glen Cortese called Elegy (2008). I enjoyed listening to this recording while reading along the scores of the original works. The effect is that Liszt himself was in my living room, creating extempore fantasias on pieces he loved, or spontaneously transcribing and embellishing the music at sight.
Hsieh opens the program with Busoni's transcription of Bach's Toccata, Adagio and Fugue. In that transcription, Busoni expands on the Lisztian tradition. Hsieh plays with grace and energy. She has a keen ear for the music's architecture, and make the piano sing in every register."
American Record Guide,
"...Miraculously and convincingly recreated."
May/June 2011 (P. 209)
" ..I am very pleased that she has returned with her impressively exciting accounts of the Bach-Busoni and also the Bach-Liszt Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor, and the Schumann-Liszt "Widmung" (which was likewise an encore at the end of the 2008 Weill Hall concert). I still retain in my mind's ear beautiful performances of Beethoven's Op. 111 and Schumann's "Humoresque" at that recital."
"In commenting upon this recorded anthology, I can reiterate that Tien Hsieh is a formidable virtuoso and also a magnetic musical persona...In terms of color, texture and concentration on detail, she immediately makes you sit up and take notice!"
- Harris Goldsmith
New York Concert Review
February 25, 2011
Mostly Transcriptions CD Review
"Clearly rendered and intimately performed"
Mostly Transcriptions is a CD released last November featuring solo piano performances by the Sacramento-based Tien Hsieh. Almost all of the tracks on the recording provide a variety of approaches to the art of the transcription. When Earl Wild chose to call his Carnegie Hall recital in the fall of 1981 (subsequently released as a live recording) The Art of the Transcription, each of the eleven works on his program was the product of a different transcriber. Mostly Transcriptions on the other hand, examines the work of transcriptions by two composers in their own right, Franz Liszt and Ferruccio Busoni. The "source composers" for the transcriptions are Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, and Frédéric Chopin. However, it is worth recognizing that Liszt's Venezia e Napoli can also be classified as transcription, even if his indigenous sources are far less well-known.
March 18, 2011
When Hsieh gave a "mostly transcriptions" recital last month in San Francisco, I took it as an opportunity to address what distinguished Busoni from Liszt, since she played transcriptions of both of these composers of Bach compositions. I tried to make the following case:
One might say that Busoni had made it his mission to promote greater interest in Bach, while Liszt was primarily concerned with promoting greater interest in Liszt.
Today we are more likely to remember Busoni for his Bach scholarship than for his original compositions; and the same attention to detail that informed Busoni's performing editions of Bach's single-manual keyboard compositions served him just as well in transcribing Bach's organ works. On the Mostly Transcriptions CD his efforts are represented by the BWV 564 C major toccata in three movements, the opening toccata, an adagio, and a fugue. Busoni was less interested in evoking the organ through the piano keyboard than he was in taking all that prodigious counterpoint than crossed over multiple manuals and a set of pedals and recasting it for a piano with a judiciously applied damper pedal. Presumably, he did this because he just wanted to play more Bach at the piano.
Hsieh's interpretation of Busoni's transcription shows just as much respect for Bach as Busoni did. Her approach to phrasing and dynamics is characteristically nineteenth-century; but that is what we should expect of a reading of Busoni. The piano for this recording was a Fazioli F278 (9' 2") on which each key could be controlled with impeccable clarity; and, while the rhetoric may have been nineteenth-century, not one note was out of place in Bach's conception of the underlying grammar and logic.
Liszt was another matter. He is represented by the BWV 542 G minor fantasy and fugue. This was more an account of the notes as Bach had written them, executed with a healthy serving of Liszt's pianism but without the interpretative appreciation of Bach-the-organ-composer that we encounter in the Busoni transcription. Ultimately, Liszt seems more at home in his transcriptions of the art song repertoire of Schubert, Schumann, and Chopin. Here his talent captures the interplay between voice and accompaniment and renders it all through two hands on a single keyboard. One cannot always sing along with Liszt's song transcriptions; but one can always identify where the singer resides, even when his pianism is at its most flamboyant. Hsieh clearly appreciates this side of Liszt's talent, and it emerges clearly in each of her performances. The same can be said of her approach to the three movements of Venezia e Napoli, even if Liszt was not as explicit about his underlying sources, most of which were again vocal.
There is one track on the CD that is decidedly not a transcription. This is "Elegy (for Giampaolo)," composed by Glen Cortese in 2008. It was composed as a memorial piece for Cortese's first composition teacher at the Manhattan School of Music, Giampaolo Bracali. This might seem a bit out of place unless we recall that the musical elegy constitutes a major place in Busoni's repertoire of original compositions. Cortese's compositional voice differs significantly from Busoni's, but this composition demonstrates that the nature of the musical elegy is as significant for him as it had been for Busoni.
Stephen Smoliar, September 2, 2011
"Mostly Transcriptions is the title of a CD released last November featuring performances by pianist Tien Hsieh of transcriptions by Franz Liszt and Ferruccio Busoni, as well as original compositions by Liszt and Glen B. Cortese. This recording served as Hsieh's point of departure for her contribution to Piano Month at today's Noontime ConcertsTM ("San Francisco's Musical Lunch Break") recital at Old Saint Mary's Cathedral. During the nineteenth century, as the piano became more technologically reliable, the virtuoso pianist became a major "draw" for public concerts. The best of those virtuosos would often expand their repertoire by appropriating music from the past and either transcribing it (if it had been written for an instrument other than a single-manual keyboard) or adapting it to the expressiveness of the piano (if it had been written for earlier single-manual performance, such as on a harpsichord or clavichord). Liszt was a leading master of this art of appropriation only to be overshadowed a generation later by Busoni (who appropriated Liszt himself, as well as other composers). Hsieh's program featured the efforts of both of these piano virtuosos. Liszt was represented by his appropriation of Bach, Franz Schubert, and Frédéric Chopin. The two Busoni selections involved, on the other hand, two different approaches to source material by Bach.
Since Busoni was the later artist, his technique was, in general, more sophisticated. Yet, at the same time, it showed greater sensitivity to the capabilities of the pianist. One might say that Busoni had made it his mission to promote greater interest in Bach, while Liszt was primarily concerned with promoting greater interest in Liszt. Thus, even when Busoni confronts the performer with a real handful of notes, those notes tend to fit under the hand far more readily than those of Busoni's original compositions. Getting them to fit your own hand can still be problematic; but, more often than not, this comes down to how well you have mastered those technical exercises set out for you by the likes of Charles-Louis Hanon and Carl Czerny. (This is no mean feat, but it sure makes the case that much is to be gained from the study of those exercises!)
This accommodating nature of Busoni's technique was most evident in today's recital in Hsieh's performance of Bach's BWV 532 prelude and fugue for organ in D major. This is one of Bach's more massive efforts in this genre. The prelude is basically a toccata that is almost a suite of improvisatory episodes. The fugue subject, on the other hand, could not be simpler; yet Bach goes on at considerable length inventing new things to do with it, all of which involve one voice imitating another, usually at the distance of the "tonal fifth." What is remarkable about Busoni's transcription is that he seems to go for differences in sonority across the different manuals and pedal stops on an organ...she always kept that emphasis on sonority in the foreground of her interpretation. The result is an evocation of music for the organ that tends to be more imaginative than the full-orchestra treatments one encounters from the likes of Leopold Stokowski (which is saying something, since Stokowski was also an organist).
The other Busoni contribution to the program was his performing version for modern piano of Bach's BWV 992, the B-flat major "Capriccio sopra la lontananza del suo fratello dilettiss" (Capriccio on the departure of his most beloved brother). This was written for a single-manual keyboard, probably intended for harpsichord; and Busoni basically "fleshed out" Bach's text for richer interpretation through piano sonorities and dynamic effects. This is basically "program music" in a series of six relatively brief movements, beginning with efforts to dissuade the brother from travelling and ending with him riding off in a coach, the travel being depicted by a fugue on the driver's horn call. (Note that the subject for this fugue may very well have been the inspiring source for Glenn Gould's "So You Want to Write a Fugue" fugue.) Once again, Busoni goes to town in his interpretation of the fugue, offering piano virtuosity on a par with what is encountered in the transcription of BWV 532; and Hsieh's interpretation of the entire program of the capriccio was as evocative as her reading of the fugue was virtuosic.
Liszt was also represented by a Bach organ transcription, the BWV 543 prelude and fugue in A minor. This is transcription in the strictest sense of the word, an effort to take all the notes from Bach's score and fit them onto a piano keyboard in a playable manner. Liszt's effort is, for the most part, successful; but it never rises to the level of an interpretation that we encounter in Busoni. Without being unduly unkind to Liszt, one might say that, while Liszt restricted himself to accounting for all of the notes, Busoni was more interested in how the action of performing Bach could be translated from organ to piano. The result is that Busoni's effort is music in its own right, while Liszt's is a platform allowing the pianist more liberty to do as (s)he chooses. For the most part Hsieh went for a relatively straightforward interpretation of Liszt, which ultimately lent greater impact to her Busoni performances...Ultimately, Busoni and his passionate love of Bach emerged as the memorable driving forces behind today's recital."
Stephen Smoliar, August 19, 2011
"...Opus 9 is downright grotesque, not only in the spirit of sinful excess that pervades the pre-Lenten celebration but also probably in the spirit of E.T.A. Hoffman, creator of the "insane " musician" Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler...Hsieh was not afraid to approach Carnaval as a composition that careens dangerously between its extremities of expression. Thus, that "passionate, voluble side" of Florestan approaches (if not crosses) the brink of pathological mania, while, at the other extreme, she lingered over the dreamy and introspective as if letting go might result in total breakdown. Of greatest interest, however, may have been the way in which she brought out the bipolarity of the final movement, which is supposed to be the march of the members of Schumann's fictitious Davidsbund to do battle with the philistines of his contemporary German culture....Thus, in the frenzy of the carnival, the good intentions all but deteriorate into nervous breakdown; and Hsieh gave a disciplined performance through which that breakdown loomed without her having to succumb to it....the world of Opus 9 is one of experience (complete with flesh-devouring beasts...at least metaphorical ones)...it is hard to imagine Opus 9 getting a reading superior to the one she offered."
Stephen Smoliar, August 17, 2010
"I always look forward to Tien Hsieh's piano recitals...Hsieh's performance (Schumann Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op. 26) threw itself entirely into Florestan's voluble spirit. It was securely framed by the extended forms of the outer movements (rondo and sonata-allegro, respectively); and even the moderately slow "Romanze" seemed to be churning with barely controlled energy. One rarely encounters quite such a wild ride, but it was this kind of a ride that best illustrated the dark side of Florestan's true nature."
Stephen Smoliar, April 20, 2010
**Tien's July performance in San Francisco, in which she demonstrated her capacity for giving equal 'justice' to both Liszt and Brahms, was selected as Top 12 of "What is Remembered" by Net News Publisher for World News, December 26, 2009
"There are "Brahmins" who think to find in their God the breath of old men of genius: they love Beethoven in Brahms. Thus, it is rare to find a pianist with a repertoire that gives a "fair shake" to both Liszt and Brahms. Tien Hsieh is such a pianist."
July 6, 2009
May 6, 2009 Mendelssohn Concerto in G Minor, Op. 25 with Oregon Mozart Players and Glen Cortese
'First Things First' is fine idea well executed Oregon Mozart Players offer an inventive look at the birth of genius. The showiest work on the program was Felix Mendelssohn's Concerto for Piano in G minor, written when the composer was a ripe old 21!
Taiwanese born Tien Hsieh gave a brilliant performance of this pianistically demanding work, her crashing chords, bravura runs and swirling scales were truly breathtaking.
Not to be outshone, the orchestra played with excellent coordination (a tribute to Maestro Cortese!); and there were several exquisite dialogues between the soloist and various sections of the orchestra. The cellos, led by Ann Grebe and Dale Bradley, introduced the songful, sighing main melody of the second movement with particular grace and effectiveness; while the final movement, Presto Molto allegra e vivace, gave the soloist ample opportunity to display her glittering virtuosity.
John Farnworth of Vida reviews classical music for The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon
"Virtuoso Piano Series: This series continues Saturday at Town Hall, with a performance by pianist Tien Hsieh, whose recital extends from Bach and Beethoven to Schumann and Liszt. Her live recording (including some of these works) demonstrates her commanding technique and an orchestral-like sonority at the piano."
- Seattle Times
November 15, 2007
"Tien Hsieh delivered electrifying performances of music of monumentally heroic difficulty. Works by Messiaen, Beethoven and finally Liszt's Rhapsodie Espagnole were breathtaking in their technical quality and interpretive maturity."
- The Carmel Pine Cone
"Serious, composed, tiny and full of music, Tien Hsieh lets her artistry on the piano express a warmth and freshness of ideas that surely none but a poet could explain."
- Pacifica Tribune
"Youthful classical pianist Tien Hsieh dazzled an enraptured audience…resulting in a round of standing applause."
- Lake County Record Bee
"Tien Hsieh took the audience by surprise when she played (Beethoven) Choral Fantasy for Piano and Chorus. It looked as though her entire being was exploding with vigor as sounds seemingly poured from her fingertips."
- Bonner County Daily Bee
"Hsieh performed Beethoven's Emperor with the symphony (Redlands Symphony Orchestra)...Like the music, she appeared calm and subdued at times and then feverishly focused on the Bowl's recently rebuilt Steinway during moments of extreme concentration required by the score. Always watching Fetta from the corner of her eye, Hsieh nimbly fingered her way through the difficult adagio un poco mosso, the symphony supplying her fanfare. By the completion of the rondo allegro, she had her head nearly resting on the instrument before her, coaxing its newly restored beauty into the air of the night. Hsieh received an ovation from the audience, who requested several bows of her before she could leave the stage."
- Redlands Daily Facts
"Hsieh traveled this whirlpool of technical command through chaos into calm
with enlightened insight and scholarly devotion that dazzled (Beethoven,
Op.111). Definitely a student of Olympian deeds, pianist Hsieh traveled her
formidable, thoroughly exciting program, with her wits and her virtuoso flights
into the sublime on the same page. Bravo."
- Pacifica Tribune
(Jean Bartlett, Pacifica, California)
"...By the Adagio movement, even Bach must have been as captivated as Hsieh's audience; here poignancy and delicacy reigned until exploding into an upbeat fugal ending (Bach-Busoni's Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major). With Schumann's Symphonic Etudes and Scriabin's Sonata No. 3, Hsieh's speed and power were remarkable, her surety through complex passages to be envied by anyone who sat at a keyboard, her articulation of individual notes precise and clear. And then the encore-the Schumann/Liszt Widmung Dedication- floated from her heart as much as from the piano! With these Tien Hsieh played like Michelangelo who discovered his sculptures within the marble."
-Independent Coast Observer
Iris Lorenz-Fife, Gualala, California
Pianist Tien Hsieh performs in Georgetown
"Taiwan born, Tien Hsieh, enthralled Sunday's audience with piano artistry like they have never heard. her intensive training begun under her mother, progressed to studying at the University of Houston School of Music, and culminating in the taking of her master's degree at Manhattan School of Music. For Sunday's concert, Ms. Hsieh chose works of Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Schumann and four of Liszt. In fact, her ability to interpret Liszt so flawlessly won her accolades when performing in an All-Liszt program at the Liszt Museum in Budapest. Meine Freuden (My Joys) was especially soul stirring.
During Sunday's concert, you could hear a pin drop as attendees hung on every note. Her profound expressiveness and ultimate musicianship was so spellbinding it totally absorbed we listeners.
The writer has heard many musicians give concerts at our IOOG Hall, but this lady has been the most accomplished yet."
- Georgetown Gazette
(Warren Walters, Georgetown, California)
"...By the Adagio movement, even Bach must have been as captivated as
Hsieh's audience; here poignancy and delicacy reigned until exploding into an
upbeat fugal ending (Bach-Busoni's Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major). With Schumann's Symphonic Etudes and Scriabin's Sonata No. 3, Hsieh's speed and power were remarkable, her surety through complex passages to be envied by anyone who sat at a keyboard, her articulation of individual notes precise and clear. And then the encore - the Schumann/Liszt Widmung Dedication - floated from her heart as much as from the piano! With these Tien Hsieh played like Michelangelo who discovered his sculptures within the marble."
- Independent Coast Observer
(Iris Lorenz-Fife, Gualala, California)
Excerpts from full reviews:
CD Review: Mostly Transcriptions - February 25, 2011
"The two exceptions to this "Mostly Transcriptions" CD are the "Venezia e Napoli" triptych from Liszt's Second Book "Italie" of his work Annes de Pelerinage (Years of Pilgrimage), and Glen Cortese's Elegy, composed in 2008. Along with the Bach-Busoni, both were handsomely played at Ms. Hsieh's Weill Hall recital in May 2008 (which I had the pleasure of reviewing in Volume 15 No. 3 of this journal). When I heard the Cortese at its World Premiere, I expressed a desire to rehear the composition. On closer scrutiny, the Elegy is indeed attractive-in a style rather reminiscent of Copland's vintage period (e.g. "Appalachian Spring").
I was hoping that Ms. Hsieh would have likewise recorded the rarely encountered and atypically self-effacing Liszt piano transcription of Beethoven's song cycle "An die Ferne Geliebte", and perhaps she will on her next CD. But 'faute de mieux', I am very pleased that she has returned with her impressively exciting accounts of the Bach-Busoni and also the Bach-Liszt Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor, and the Schumann-Liszt "Widmung" (which was likewise an encore at the end of the 2008 Weill Hall concert). I still retain in my mind's ear beautiful performances of Beethoven's Op. 111 and Schumann's "Humoresque" at that recital.
In commenting upon this recorded anthology, I can reiterate that Tien Hsieh is a formidable virtuoso and also a magnetic musical persona. Her bio says she was born in Taiwan and that she studied with her mother, Sylvia Hsieh (a renowned pedagogue in her own right), and with Dr. Marc Silverman at the Manhattan School of Music (her other mentors were Abbey Simon, Ruth Tomfohrde, Jane Allen and Carol Tafoya). In terms of color, texture and concentration on detail, she immediately makes you sit up and take notice! The opening measures of the Bach-Busoni Toccata, slashing and sparely pedaled, along with the arranger's clever "Busonifications", recreate the facsimile of the original organ, with its characteristic squeal and visceral intensity. (I might add that the state-of-the-art fidelity of the recording further enhances the physical allure of this thrusting and appropriate interpretation). (Note too, Ms. Hsieh's precise articulation of the Fugue).
Her high-Romanticism approach works wondrously well in much of the chosen selections, although just two of the compositions of the "Mostly Transcriptions" roster may be a little 'too much': The Liszt version of "Der Muller und der Bach" seems a trifle fussy, with the melodic line overstretched, and Ms. Hsieh, in my opinion, allows the accompaniment roulades to be a distraction away from the gravitas, and at the expense of ongoing simplicity. (There is a remarkable recording on Vista Vera by the Soviet pianist Rosa Tamarkina, (1920-1950), who died tragically from cancer at the age of 30). Likewise, the Van Cliburn RCA recording of his signature piece, the Schumann-Liszt "Widmung", also strikes this writer as more ongoing and less finicky than Ms. Hsieh's.
Liszt's "Venezia e Napoli" is, to be sure, an intriguing contrast to Jerome Lowenthal's just released version, Bridge 9307A/C, of the complete "Annees de Pelerinage", and Lowenthal's tautly structural interpretation. Lowenthal, who studied with the late William Kapell, makes a wonderful contrast with Ms. Hsieh's slower, more ruminative take on the pieces. Both extremes make cogent good sense as unquestionably 'idiomatic'.
All of the remaining items are, in their various ways, miraculously and convincingly recreated. Note, too, that the total timing of 77:15 is uncommonly generous. The disc is warmly recommended.
- Harris Goldsmith for New York Concert Review; New York, NY
July 6, 2009
Review from San Francisco Examiner
"Doing justice to both Liszt and Brahms"
In the preparation of concert programs Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms rarely make good partners. As I have observed on my blog, Brahms had a "tendency to invoke the adjective 'Lisztich' when talking about excessive bad taste," perhaps insinuating that Liszt was never more than an "entertainer" in the perjorative sense of that word explored by SF Classical Music Examiner Scott Fogelsong on Saturday. Brahms was also the target of some rather vicious adjectives. The novelist Roman Rolland, in the first volume of his Jean-Christophe trilogy, even turned Brahms' invented adjective on its head:
There are "Brahmins" who think to find in their God the breath of old men of genius: they love Beethoven in Brahms.
Thus, it is rare to find a pianist with a repertoire that gives a "fair shake" to both Liszt and Brahms.
Tien Hsieh is such a pianist. In a Noontime Concerts recital she gave two years ago, she explored several of Liszt's many approaches to transcription, as well as the first of his "Mephisto" waltzes. This summer she is on the faculty of the InterHarmony International Music Festival; and, in the first Faculty Chamber Music Concert yesterday afternoon, she gave a very "fair shake" indeed to Brahms, while continuing her pursuit of the Liszt repertoire. That pursuit included a continuing interest in his transcriptions, this time focusing on songs including one of Franz Schubert ("Der Müller und der Bach," from Die Schöne Müllerin) and two by Robert Schumann ("Frülingsnacht" from Liederkreis and "Widmung"). This was followed by Liszt's "Rhapsodie Espagnole;" and, if one ever wanted to make a case for Liszt-as-entertainer, this would provide excellent evidence. Liszt composed it in 1845 while touring Spain (although it was not published until 1863); and, as I wrote on my blog the last time I heard it performed, he "was clearly making a play for local appeal." He thus subjected two "local favorites," "La Folía" (the theme that Sergei Rachmaninoff mistakenly attributed to Arcangelo Corelli) and "Jota Aragonesa," to the usual "Liszt treatment" of (really) extended flamboyant embellishment, just the sort of thing to get the audience to leap to its feet in hysterical applause and cheers.
Hsieh is not as flamboyant as Liszt, but her delivery is solid. She has a clear sense of the difference between the embellishing and the embellished, so she can honor all of Liszt's elaborate excursions without losing sight of the point of departure for each of them. She also deals admirably with his radical shifts in dynamics, thus getting all of the musical expression out of the piano that Liszt probably intended without giving any attention to any excessive display of physical show. In short, she approaches the keyboard with a psychological disposition that can give as much justice to Brahms as to Liszt.
Her Brahms selection was his first piano quartet (Opus 25), for which she was joined by faculty members David Yonan (violin), Claudia Lasareff-Mironoff (viola), and Misha Quint (cello). While Brahms probably gave little thought to mass audience appeal while composing this work, he still revealed a few of his own ways of going over the top, even if any thoughts of entertainment never reached beyond the performers themselves. The middle section of his ternary-form andante movement turns out to be a parade, which approaches from a distance but eventually overwhelms the ear with its march rhythm. However, this jolt is nothing compared to the "alla Zingarese" concluding rondo, which may be the closest Brahms ever came to orgiastic impressions. This is wild music, and the members of the quartet threw themselves into it with all of the abandon that its spirit demands.
Somewhat less in the shadows was Hsieh's performance of the San Francisco Premiere of a 2008 elegy for solo piano by Glen Cortese. In many respects this was a composition in the spirit of the seven elegies composed by Ferruccio Busoni (entry 249 in Jürgen Kindermann's catalog). However, there is also a strong sense of that "American sound" that Nadia Boulanger cultivated in so many of her American students during much of the twentieth century. Hsieh approached this music with the same energy and respect she had given to Liszt and Brahms, but it felt somewhat out of place. I would certainly be interested in hearing more of Cortese's work, but it may require a more conducive setting than that of yesterday's concert.
May 18, 2008
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall
"Pianist Tien Hsieh, who made her New York debut in 1996 as a winner of Artists International's Artists Auditions returned to Weill Hall as a recipient of the same organization's Distinguished Artist Alumni-Winners Award on May 18. Ms. Hsieh has enjoyed an impressive and audacious career as a recitalist, chamber music player and concerto soloist as far afield as Atlanta, Chicago, the University of Vermont and Key West Stateside; but also in Budapest, the Czech Republic and her native China (Ms. Hsieh was born in Taiwan) since earning her BM and MM degrees from the Manhattan School of Music working with Dr. Marc Silverman, and with Abbey Simon and Ruth Tomfohrde at the University of Houston. She began her musical training with her mother, Sylvia Hsieh, who maintains an active studio in Sacramento, CA.
The unusually impressive recital on May 18 commenced with a compelling, thrusting and beautifully organized reading of the Bach-Busoni Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major, BWV 654.
The Bach-Busoni was followed by a real curio: I don't believe that this writer has ever encountered the Beethoven-Liszt piano solo arrangement of the complete Song Cycle "An die ferne Geliebte", Op. 98. It was, I daresay, a welcome change for concertgoers saturated with the Schumann-Liszt "Widmung" and all those ornate and (well) vulgar show-off tampering with those poor Schubert lieder! For whatever reason, Beethoven's irascible genius seems to have intimidated Liszt from showing his glitzy side. As it turned out, the "An die ferne Geliebte" proved to be very much like the very fine concert performance that pianist Frederic Chiu played of the Beethoven-Liszt Fifth Symphony only a few days after Ms. Hsieh's Weill Hall concert: The Song Cycle, like the Symphony, let us hear the music in a soberly serious, utilitarian way with all the attention directed to the works without introducing any unnecessary acrobatics. And, Ms. Hsieh, I might add, managed a rich, singing tone!
Beethoven's last sonata, No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111 was masterfully interpreted and wonderfully well organized. Indeed, the life-and-death concentration of this quite extraordinary performance was so great that a momentary, unexpected glitch came as a shock to this absorbed listener (and, no doubt, to Ms. Hsieh as well!) as an unanticipated reminder that human frailty can indeed exist amidst apparent perfection. After this tiny stumble, the splendid vortex immediately resumed its course. I repeat, this account of Op. 111 was one of the most memorable and deeply moving that this lifelong Beethoven worshipper has ever heard-it was that superb!
After intermission, Ms. Hsieh presented the World Premiere of Elegy (2008) by Glen Cortese, an affecting, lyrical, introspective piece that I would certainly like to hear again.
Schumann's Humoreske, Op.20 is, to be sure, one of the great longer suites among Schumann's legacy, but your reviewer doesn't consider it an equal masterpiece to be set alongside my undisputed favorites, the "Davidsbündlertänze", Op. 6;
the C Major Fantasy, the "Kreisleriana", the "Carnival" and the Sonata No. 1 in F sharp Minor, Op. 11 (a good friend of mine once facetiously dubbed it "The worst of the great Schumann works"!). It is a pleasure to relate that Tien Hsieh's interpretation at this concert made the music's wild and sudden mood swings (or, change of humor, as the composer himself specified) come alive again with imagination, passion and vitality. So the alleged shortcomings belong not to the music but, rather, to complacent, unimaginative performers.
The encore performance of the ubiquitous Schumann-Liszt "Widmung" was very fine but not quite as extraordinary as the "An die ferne Geliebte".
- New York Concert Review
November 15, 2007
Romanticism Magnified with Pianist Tien Hsieh
"On Saturday, November 10, I attended a recital given by Taiwanese-born pianist Tien Hsieh. Titled Romanricism Magnified, this was the second installment of the Virtuoso Piano Series at Town Hall. Although the hall itself was only about half-full, the audience, a few of whom I managed to interview after the concert, appeared to be very pleased with Ms. Hsieh's performance of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann, and Franz Liszt.
Ms. Hsieh started the program with two pieces, written by Bach and Beethoven, respectively, and later arranged by Romantic composer Franz Liszt. The first was Bach's Organ Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542. I found that Liszt's arrangement of this work was so romanticized that the Fantasy did not sound like Bach at all. It was not until the Fugue that the qualities typical of Baroque music became apparent. Ms. Hsieh played the Fantasy and Fugue with great vigor and passion. Next came Liszt's arrangement of Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved), Op. 98. Ms. Hsieh performed this song cycle really well, so that it was like the piano was, in fact, "singing" the songs.
The last piece of the first half was the Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111, Beethoven's final sonata, written only six years before his death. In my opinion, this was the highlight of the recital, especially the first movement. "It was intense," commented Asli Omur, a senior at the University of Washington, "[Ms. Hsieh was so animated that] her bun turned into a ponytail." Perceptible emotion aside, Ms. Hsieh's feeling and reaction to the music could be sensed in her intonation and powerful crescendos and diminuendos, not to mention her impressive technique. She seemed to digress a bit in the middle of the second movement, but she regained her strength toward the end and finished the Sonata with as much vigor and feeling as she had shown at the beginning.
After a brief intermission, the audience reassembled for Schumann's Humoreske, Op. 20. Schumann himself considered this his most melancholic composition. Ms. Hsieh handled it skillfully, playing with a very broad scope of feeling, moving rapidly from merriment to melancholy and back again.
Ms. Hsieh finished the program with Liszt's Rhapsodie Espagnole. "The Liszt was very exciting," remarked Frank Stackhouse, a local physician and lover of piano music, "[Ms. Hsieh] has a great range of emotion." Ms. Hsieh, acknowledged for her expertise in the interpretation of Liszt, recently performed at the Liszt Museum in Budapest, Hungary. The Rhapsodie Espagnole is one of her signature pieces, and for good reason. Her performance was so refined that she received a very enthusiastic standing ovation. This led to an encore, Schumann's Dedication, which the composer had written for his wife, Clara, and Ms. Hsieh dedicated to her appreciative audience.
John Erling, avid music lover and proprietor of the late Fifth Avenue Record Store summed up the experience: "This girl is one hundred percent talent!" he declared eagerly, "Those fierce octaves...[Ms. Hsieh] tossed them off like nothing. The Schumann and Liszt were a knockout." He added that it was a shame more people did not come to hear her play."
- European Weekly
Review by Elena Goukassian
November 1, 2006
Keeping her wits and her virtuoso flights on the same page, pianist Tien Hsieh dazzles Pacifica
With the clear intention of separating his sound from Beethoven, Johannes
Brahms put his own spin on the piano sonata and wrote "Sonata No. 1 in C Major,
Op. 1 No. 1." Brahms was young, full of exuberance and willing to seize the
moment and lay all his compositional cards on the table. A pianist performing
this piece must begin with dark potent rumblings; soften into trills,
intricate ornamentation and shadow march then leap onto a new page of technical
bravado. Saturday night Pacifica Performances welcomed pianist Tien Hsieh to
their concert hall stage and she opened her program with the aforementioned
ditty. Hsieh's performance of this sizeable Brahms piece was a colossal
interpretation at its most intricate and commanding. Chopin often kept his rhythmic foundation floating like a lily on rainbow colored waters before it plunged over the embankment into a pool of green. With her fingers dancing one elusive thread slower than a waltz, Hsieh next gave us "Four Mazurkas, Op. 33"
(Chopin). Though nothing sounded controlled, everything was under Hsieh's complete control allowing her listeners a piano doorway into a delicate seduction of Polish dance and romantic mystery. Hsieh also took good advantage of the intimacy of the Sanchez Concert Hall to deliver quiet beads of personal poetry - a true tribute to Chopin's gentle performance style.
Pianist composer Franz Liszt was a bigger than life, nineteenth century
showman. But behind each blazing, garland strewn performance was a real
front-page virtuoso in action, able to make the ladies swoon because his music was and
is a triumph of the spirit. Had I lived in his time, I would have been a
front row junkie. Liszt's "Rhapsodie Espagnole" was the final offering of Ms.
Hsieh's first set. With a seamless flow through texture and melody and a pulsing
articulation, Hsieh played all that is loved about Liszt - sweeping madness
and no-holes barred, intoxicating technique. Hsieh gave her audience layers
of Liszt immortal.
When Beethoven sent his final sonata "Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111" to
his publisher, his publisher presumed that the third movement was lost in the
mail. A rumor then spread that Beethoven did not have time to write the third
movement - but all as sent was correct. The first movement "Maestoso.
Allegro con brio e appassionato" rolls and tosses over the measure of the keyboard,
stopping in the serene and circling the divine. The second movement,
"Arietta. Adagio molto, semplice e cantabile" demands trills, ragtime, 18th century
untamed boogie woogie and a release from the storm into the calm. It requires
seemingly in sound alone seven hands; it allows only two. Hsieh traveled
this whirlpool of technical command through chaos into calm with enlightened
insight and scholarly devotion that dazzled. Definitely a student of Olympian
deeds, pianist Hsieh traveled her formidable, thoroughly exciting program, with
her wits and her virtuoso flights into the sublime on the same page. Bravo.
- Pacifica Tribune
(Jean Bartlett, California)
Pianist Tien Hsieh commanding the spirit of Liszt from Sanchez Concert Hall stage
Saturday night, classical pianist Tien Hsieh, sat down to the piano on Pacifica Performance Sanchez Concert Hall stage and offered up the fingerprints of Liszt throughout her entire evening's presentation in that she never floundered from dazzling technique and spellbinding octaves. Her first piece was "Fantasy and Fugue in G minor" (written by Johann Sebastian Bach for organ and arranged for piano by Franz Liszt). Amazingly the sound of grandiose organ roared its sound through Hsieh's flawless liquid piano in a spool of dark, masterful strokes. Subtle shadings and meltaway phrases brought the color of Sergei Rachmaninoff right through Hsieh's hands in her performance of his compositions "Etude-Tableau in A Minor, Op. 39 No.2" and " Etude-Tableau in A Minor, Op. 39 No. 6." Like Rachmaninoff and like Liszt, Hsieh never wasted a single note. Grand, relentless, madness explained, love caught through fingertips and galloping hooves trailing off to pastoral dreams - all these sounds wove through pianist Hsieh's piano exploration of Robert Schumann's " Humoresque, Op.20." A long but glorious piece of music, the story of Schumann lingered long in the ear after his narrative piano had finished.
The second half of Hsieh's program began with "Venezia e Napoli" composed by Liszt in 1840. Can hands fall like autumn leaves on the piano? Can rich and skillful, detailed texturing really explain the song of the gondolier, or speak in lyric from 13th century Italy yet still find breath to whirl and spin in a lively toe heel dance? The answer is yes, when the composer is Liszt and the pianist is Hsieh. Hsieh filled her piano sails with plush melancholy and lovely hues of grain in her presentation of Liszt's transcription of Franz Schubert's "Der Müller und der Bach." Waves of arpeggios calling out to passion serene met and married in Hsieh's version of "Widmung" (Robert Schumann/Franz Liszt.) Hsieh finished with a brilliant interpretation of Franz Liszt "Mephisto Waltz #1."
Throughout her extraordinarily demanding performance venue, Hsieh appeared lit by a fire from within that enabled her to swirl through clusters of fast moving notes then seemingly shimmer through waterfall articulation. She didn't say much throughout her performance. In fact, she didn't speak at all until she introduced her encore piece of music. Serious, composed, tiny and full of music, Tien Hsieh lets her artistry on the piano express a warmth and freshness of ideas that surely none but a poet could explain. Still it might be nice for her to look out onto her audience to see the sweep of smiles she has won."
- Pacifica Tribune
(Jean Bartlett, California)